Professional Writer Super Power Tip: Buffers and Backup Plans

tiny supermanAhhh, the life of a professional freelance writer – the freedom, the creativity, the coffee shops.

The deadlines.

I love my life as a self-employed writer. I get to make my own schedule, choose my own clients, and run the show my way. I honestly don’t think I can ever go back to working in a corporate job. Ever.

But, and let me be crystal clear about this, it’s not like I don’t have a boss. In fact, I have many bosses. Each of my clients is my boss, each project lead within a client company is my boss, my business (managing and building it) is my boss. Add on top of that all the professional and personal responsibilities I take on voluntarily (professional education, blogging, side projects, being a mom, having a life), and that schedule I get to set for myself starts to look pretty scary.

CONFESSION: I had planned to publish an entirely different post today. I was really getting into writing the second half of my two-parter on getting started as a freelance content marketer. But, I had to put the breaks on. I could have pushed through and cranked out “something,” but I realized that I just didn’t have the time to do it the way I wanted to. (Sounds like a familiar refrain. *hangs head in shame*)

Here’s the thing – when you’re a freelance writer, your schedule is a living beast that can (and probably will) mutate at any moment. Despite my strong Type-A tendencies, project management background, and magical calendaring skills, I still fall victim to the whims and wiles of my never-fully-tamed schedule.

BUT … most of the time, I protect myself from catastrophe with two super powers:


Most things will take longer than you expect.

It’s a harsh reality, but one you should go ahead and accept. Estimating the time a task will take is, in the experience of many writers, one of the toughest part of this gig. And, even when you nail your estimate, there is a whole slew of unforeseen events lying in wait to ambush your beautiful plans and turn your whole day (and week) into a mad scramble.

The solution: build in buffers wherever you can.

Don’t pack your day with back-to-back, end-to-end tasks and obligations. Make it a point to insert as much “white space” as possible. If, like me, you use calendaring to manage your tasks and time, actually put that non-working space on your calendar. Make it a pretty color. Put a smiley face on it.

Most of your buffers will get eaten up by things like impromptu phone calls, tasks that took longer than you’d planned, having to pick your sick kid up from school, etc. That’s okay. (Well, not your kid being sick. That’s the pits.) Buffer time is there to be eaten. If it doesn’t get eaten, yay. You get bonus time. The point is to have it “just in case.”


But even if you’ve made a beautiful plan and built in buffers, Life can still throw you a left hook and leave you down for the count and unable to get back on your feet. That, like having a sick kid, is also the pits. BUT … it’s not too horrible if you employ the freelance writer super power: backup plans.

This post is a kind of backup plan. I had hoped to write that other massive, epic, deep-dive post today; but life (and work) got in the way and my buffers got all eaten up. SO … this post was my fallback position, my safety net.

In a perfect world, I would have had a few posts like this queued up and ready to publish at a moment’s notice. But, this isn’t a perfect world, so I’m writing it “live.” Still, it’s taking me about a quarter of the time it will ultimately take me to write the other post, so – that helps in my time-crunched day.

Always have a backup plan. Always know the answer to the question, “If I just can’t make this happen, what will I do instead?” Give yourself options.


So – buffers and backup plans. Learn how to use them. Make them part of your freelance writer world. You’ll be less stressed and more productive. Trust me.

And now, I have to go. Those other deadlines are nipping at my heels.


"There are never enough hours in the day." - Freelance Writers Everywhere

Feeling tangled up in your schedule?


PS – In case you missed the two links above, you really might want to check out this post from the archives: How to be a Freelance Writer: 5 Tools for Smart Planning and Time Management. It goes into a lot more detail & walks you through some actual tactics for wrangling your schedule into submission.

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: Terence l.s.m via Compfight cc

27 thoughts on “Professional Writer Super Power Tip: Buffers and Backup Plans

    • Thanks, Natacha.
      It’s like a puzzle where the picture and the pieces are always changing … hmmm … that could be the premise of a fun SciFi/Fantasy short story. 😉

  1. Hi, Jamie. I just started following you and am so glad I did. I, like you, use calendaring to monitor my time. Those unplanned events usually put a damper on the plans created for the day. I like the buffer and backup plan ideas. I just started with the scheduled post and this week I was glad I did. At any rate, I just wanted to let you know that with the backup plan you had, I received good information. Thanks. I look forward to more of your posts.

    • Hi, Sandra. Nice to “meet” you, and so glad you found your way here! 🙂

      Unplanned events seem to be everywhere, don’t they? I swear – if I could go ONE day without something cropping up at the last minute or taking oodles more time than I’d anticipated, it’d be a miracle!

      So glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for taking the time to say so. Good luck with your plans & hopefully we’ll see you around the blog again soon.

      • I am tickled because I got a head cold from the inconsistency here in Las Vegas, hot, cold, hot, cold. I did my post anyway today. Some unplanned events (who plans to get sick) we have to forge through.

      • You’re right. Learning to “forge ahead” is ANOTHER freelance writer super power. 😉
        Feel better!

  2. This is a great fall-back post if I ever saw one! I know what you mean about the ‘bosses’. I’m a self-employed hairstylist, and I have over 100 bosses! They choose me, so I work for them. 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. It was an eye opener for me. i tend to do exactly hat you describe, jam pack my day so full with expectations that as soon as i’m not able to get now thing done, I get upset and beat myself up. I need back up plans! I never thought of writing, blogging or mommy time as all needing white space, because things happen in life and theres nothing we can do about it. I’m definitely going to work on creating abetter schedule this week! Thanks for sharing.

  4. No shame in a “backup post”! This has happened to me one or two times – I would much rather post something less content heavy and defer the heavier one, instead of posting something I’m not happy with.

  5. I found this to be a brief, yet very helpful post. With any project (or even a simple task) allotting extra time for its completion is always a good idea. I feel much less stressed when I plan some “buffer” time and set myself up for success instead of failure. My struggle lies in developing the discipline of scheduling and actually adhering to my own schedule. Far too often I allow what is most urgent to crowd out what is most important in my life (such as family time, time spent writing, etc.). I definitely need to work on some back up plans.

    Thank you for this post and your helpful insights. I just discovered your writing and look forward to reading more of it.

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